Although nearly all parties concerned with the Salt Palace convention center say they are still committed to expansion and upgrading of the facility, the plan shows signs of stalling in the Legislature. The project failed to get state funding in last year's session. Lawmakers should not let that happen again.
The Salt Palace convention center is a 21-year old facility. It badly needs refurbishing and more space to handle larger conventions. And the 12,000-seat Acord Arena will soon stand empty without major users when the Utah Jazz and other sports and entertainment events move to the new arena being built by Jazz owner Larry Miller.Without upgraded facilities, the Salt Palace increasingly will lose convention business to other cities that boast gleaming new facilities, all much larger that the Salt Lake edifice. Some conventions that had planned to hold meetings in the Salt Palace have backed out.
Since 1985, the Salt Palace has lost an estimated 25 events with a value to the community of $40 million. More of that will occur unless urgent steps are taken to improve the convention facilities.
The proposal agreed on after several studies calls for a $62 million expansion and remodeling project, with the state providing $15 million and Salt Lake City and county providing the remainder.
However, state auditors this month released a study that questioned some of the project's assumptions, chiefly because details were lacking and a master plan had not been drafted. The audit said the project should not proceed in planned phases until a decision has been made on what to do with Acord Arena.
The study also cited reasons other than the size of the Salt Palace for convention losses. It cited a lack of hotel rooms for mammoth conventions, as well as image problems. But that's no reason for not solving at least part of the issue by making the Salt Palace a first-class facility.
Some lawmakers have seized on the report as a reason to delay the state's $15 million share of the project. Yet postponement only makes the problem worse. Some argue that because conventions are scheduled years in advance, there is no hurry. But each year lost now is another year's delay in reaping the benefits of an expanded Salt Palace.
And each year that the Salt Palace remains in poor condition, the more excuses there are for groups to pull out of previous commitments.
The Salt Palace has shortcomings that must be resolved. Let's not add unnecessary delay by the Legislature to the list.